Which Works Best – Salt or Sand For Ice Removal?


When managing ice removal on Chicago area sidewalks and roads, people have bantered for years about the effectiveness and environmental effects of sand vs. salt. But it’s actually a version of the proverbial apples to oranges. In actuality, only one results in ice removal, the other makes winter ice more navigable.

How Salt Works for Ice Management

Technically speaking, salt does not melt ice. It lowers the point at which water freezes, so it’s best to apply it to parking lots, sidewalks, and roads either before ice has formed, or after it has been cleared away to prevent re-freezing. In other words, salt is meant to be proactive for ice management – Stop ice before it starts.

Several types of salt can be used: sodium chloride (rock salt), calcium chloride, or calcium magnesium. According to Consumer Reports rock salt only lowers the freezing point to 20 degrees Fahrenheit, so it becomes ineffective once the temperature falls into the teens. At this point magnesium chloride, effective down to -13 degrees F., and calcium chloride down to -25 are better but more expensive options.

How Sand Works for Ice Management

Sand is an abrasive material, so when applied to icy surfaces it provides a coefficient of friction, or in common language – traction. Sand doesn’t melt ice, and since it only works when applied to the surface of ice, loses its effectiveness should additional snow accumulate on top of it. However, unlike salt, it works no matter how low the thermometer drops.

Leave Salt and Sand Application Up To The Pros

There are some downsides to improper application of salt and sand on winter surfaces. Salt doesn’t just combat ice, it also corrodes steel (as in cars and bridges) and eats away at concrete sidewalks, parking lots, and roads. It tends to be harsh to any shrubs and grass on which it contacts. For this reason, salt should never be over-applied and it’s best to use a professional for salt application. While none of the salt varieties can be called harmless, they do vary in the degree of damage they cause when used improperly.

Sand, whether at the seashore or on the sidewalk, tends to drift and build-up. Thus, any budding dunes at the site of drains can cause problems come spring. For this reason, post-storm sand removal is vital.

When all is said and done, the best way to deal with icy surfaces is to remove snow before it gets a chance to compact and freeze over. Now is the best time to engage a snow and ice management company like Brancato to create your snow and ice removal plan for 2015-2016. Contact us to learn about our many service options.